Let’s face it: many student films are, well, not that good. They’re invariably about suicide or troubled twentysomethings or one of a million other ideas that have been completely covered in the past 100 hundred years of movie-making. But for every few (or few dozen) that don’t live up to the hype, there are those that announce the presence of new talents and serve as calling-cards for the blockbuster directors of tomorrow. Some of today’s biggest filmmakers, from Christopher Nolan to George Lucas, got their start making student films. Because of that, student film festivals are amazing places to see new works and discover the women and men who will eventually graduate to bigger and better things. Whether you’re a student looking for ways to break into the fest circuit or a movie lover looking for new ways to experience film, these student-focused festivals should be on your radar.
- Silverscreen Film Festival: This Missouri-centric film festival started life in 2008 and has grown considerably since then. In its inception, it targeted student filmmakers from the University of Missouri and Stephens College. Soon enough, though, the fest grew to include a number of other state schools, including William Woods University and Truman State University. Considering there are more than 30,000 students at Mizzou alone, that’s an impressive amount of potential filmmakers to draw from. It’s one of the region’s newest and quickest success stories.
- Arizona Student Film Festival: This Arizona festival is open to students statewide who are in 3rd grade through college and who attend and public or private school, which makes for a huge potential field of entrants. While the festival does allow for students (especially younger ones) to receive guidance from educators, the films themselves have to be shot, edited, written, and directed by the students. The organization acts as a kind of incubator for local talents, with prizes including a digital camera kit meant to inspire the young filmmakers to keep plugging away at their passions.
- No Limits Film Festival: Based in Sheffield, England, the No Limits Film Festival is all about, well, no limits: student filmmakers aren’t restricted by content, length, or subject matter. If you want to make an animated short about your childhood, go for it; if you want to film a three-hour documentary about a punk band, you’re welcome to do so. It’s one of the biggest international student-based fests in the U.K., attracting aspiring filmmakers from around the world. The fest also organizes special Sheffield events throughout the year to keep the film scene alive and stay on people’s radar. The jury is also composed of students, which adds to the peer-approved flavor of the festival.
- Campus MovieFest: Billing itself as the world’s largest student film festival, Campus MovieFest is kind of a rolling tour that moves across the country and shows students that making a movie is a lot easier than they think it is. The organization started at Emory University in 2000 and now includes dozens of universities nationwide. The goal is to provide students with the cameras and computers they need to shoot and edit a five-minute film and then screen them in big theaters. Each school’s quickie movies are subsequently screened, with prizes being handed out for comedy, drama, and more. It’s less a traditional festival and more a crash-course in film production for students who’ve been looking to try their hand at making movies. Students can also petition to bring the festival to their school if they’re feeling left out.
- Angelus Student Film Festival: The Angelus Student Film Festival, held annually at the Directors Guild Association center in Los Angeles, just got a big publicity boost when Luke Matheny nabbed an Academy Award for his short film God of Love, which won the Angelus grand prize for excellence in filmmaking last fall. The Angelus Fest focuses on student films that revolve around themes of redemption, humanity, spirituality, and works that they feel "respect the dignity of the human person." In other words, the content is slightly more hopeful than entries you might find at other festivals. Considering the quality of their entries and the way their alumni often go on to bigger things, the festival’s definitely worth checking out for filmmakers and fans in the SoCal area.
- Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival: Despite its insular focus, the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival is a great resource for film fans and young storytellers in the surrounding area. The festival sets itself apart from most other student film competitions by only accepting work from students in the greater Toronto region; anyone living there who’s between ages 18 and 28 (formerly 26) can fire up a camera and submit something. The local scope makes for a less harrowing competition, but it also has the added benefit of making the fest a window into the lives of young Torontoans at any given time. It’s like getting a snapshot of local life.
- Fresh Film Fest: Held annually in the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary, the Fresh Film Fest International Film Festival (or, more easily, Fresh Film Fest) rounds up student films throughout Europe with the goal of fostering artistic and political communication between nations. The festival has a particular focus on the Visegrad Group — the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia — and serves as one of the biggest student-oriented festivals in that part of the world. Fresh Fest screens close to 150 films over a few days packed into multiple screening venues. A must for any and all non-U.S. student filmmakers.
- City University Film Festival: CUFF, as it’s known coloquially, is the official film festival of the City University of New York school system. Although the festival itself is farily young — its inaugural year was 2009 — it’s already making a name for itself in the film festival circuit, especially among New York students. CUNY student films are screeened in a competition that’s open to the public, which makes the fest one of the more accessible of its kind. The group is also drawing on a pretty powerful student body, since it’s based at Macaulay Honors College, and the CUNY system has hundreds of thousands of students.
- Ivy Film Festival: Born in December 2001, the Ivy Film Festival is held on the Brown University campus in Rhode Island and features a wealth of films from undergraduate and graduate students primarily from Ivy League institutions. The festival actually skipped a year and resumed in 2003 to make accomodations for size and programming. The festival’s hook is that it offers a venue for student filmmakers not merely to display their works but to workshop and collaborate with one another and to learn from established industry talents. Featured speakers have included Martin Scorsese, Doug Liman, and Brown grad Michael Showalter.
- The Shortie Awards: The Shortie Awards have been around since 2001, when the film festival was established as a way to celebrate the works of young filmmaker and their teachers. These student films come from real-deal kids, not film school students, either: the fest showcases works from filmmakers ages 7-18. Although the festival and awards ceremony are based in Washington, D.C., film submissions are accepted from around the world. The Shortie Awards also maintains a YouTube channel for fans to catch up on old works or rewatch their favorites.
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